“Coaching never stops”
The above sentence is something that my coach, Luke, will drop in, normally sarcastically after correcting my occasionaly Americanised spelling but, in actuality, rings very true.
A clear related pattern that can be observed in every Judo country around the world, and most definitely in Great Britain, is excellent coaches having been coached by excellent coaches. Let’s first go to the world’s strongest Judo nation, Japan. There is a wealth of evidence to show high level knowledge being passed down to create and develop more high level knowledge and performance. World and Olympic Champion, Yasuhiro Yamashita, was coached by double World Champion, Nobuyuki Sato. Yamashita then going on to become head coach of the Japanese national team. Obviously in Japan there are hundreds of similar examples like this.
Even in Britain though, where Judo is still a minority sport, that organic system of handing down expertise is very much apparent. My own coach, Luke Preston, personal coach to Ashley McKenzie, the only British male major (European and World Championship, Olympic Games) medallist this Olympic cycle, was coached by the highly successful Mark Earle at Camberley. Luke has previously discussed how helpful he found having Mark to speak to and bounce ideas off when he first started coaching. Billy Cusack, personal coach to World Champion, Graeme Randall, was a player under the very highly respected Tony MacConnell at Kendal. Fitzroy Davis, personal coach to World Champion, Craig Fallon, was a fighter himself under the extremely successful Mac Abbotts and Dave Brooks at Wolverhampton.
It appears that coaching isn’t something that is exclusively learned after the competitive days. Of course, further learning and growth is important but, particularly concerning the previously mentioned pattern, much is learned from the coach, regarding coaching, in the time under them as a player; even if only subconsciously. Human beings are by nature mimickers and copiers, we often repeat what we see or experience. In terms of Judo, people mostly adopt fighting styles or the coaching methods of the individuals that they came through under. Obviously a certain level of autonomy is important too, and room for individual creativity. For me though, working under a quality coach, is perhaps the most important thing of all in the preparation of younger (and older) athletes, and often younger coaches. I think that learning, via mimicking, is a fantastic tool of development; no different or less important to how we learn to walk and talk by watching and listening to our parents. Is it a surprise that Mozart’s father was himself a successful musician and renowned music teacher?
Something that again struck home to me during the first lockdown was just how useful advice from learned people really is. I am a member of LAPS (Life After Professional Sport), a fantastic organisation dedicated to aiding athletes in finding work and studying opportunities. During the pandemic LAPS provided us with many webinars, a number of which with successful authors. I’ve always wanted to write more, I find it very useful, like a process of organisation for the thoughts. When thinking on how to best utilise my time through the lockdowns making a habit of writing regularly was high up on the list. Anyway, I remember having a moment of clarity during one of these seminars. The author leading the talk had been discussing some basic ideas around language, which I had actually been thinking about in the month or so leading up to hearing him speak. That was a nice affirmation for me after consciously deciding to, and building that routine of, writing frequently in the months leading up to that point. As quickly as he built me up though he shot me down! The author then went on to discuss titles. He said he didn’t like ‘artsy’ sounding titles, how he had found they actually turn most people off. The very bloody thing I’d tried to do with each post that I was doing! He reckoned a more descriptive title being much more applicable. He suggested that if wanting to do a title sounding a little more ‘mysterious’ then include a short, descriptive subtitle. Consider the difference in the title for this post; Coaching Never Stops doesn’t actually grab that much does it. Coaching Never Stops: The Importance of Receiving Regular High Level Instruction being far more explanatory. For me, I sat there thinking how grateful I was for just hearing that, never mind all the other notes I took that hour. Things like that may be obvious to more experienced writers but, particularly that point about titles, made me consider that if I was left on my own how many months or years it may have taken me to work that out, if ever.
When I think on that I consider all the formative advice I have previously, and continue to receive from a Judo perspective. Often it is direct but plenty of other times it won’t be, slipped into or over heard in conversations, texts, small hints etcetera. I consider myself a fairly autonomous Judo player and kids coach, yet after many years together, I still gain valuable instruction from my coach in both areas. I find it so useful and beneficial being able to run things by him. All those pieces of information, some larger, some smaller can contribute to greater understanding, hopefully leading to an improved service to the young players that I lead.
I do, the more I see, I really believe that out of everything, for those that want to get the best out of themselves, finding a quality coach to work under is perhaps the most important element of all.
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